The first time I saw John Mulaney’s debut comedy special on TV (2009) I was eating a cheeseburger. That’s what kind of Friday night it was – the sitting-on-the-floor-eating-McDonald’s type.
When the kid (from Chicago) launched into his “Best meal I ever had” bit, I quickly went from eating to choking to attempting to breathe just enough to stay conscious (had to catch the end of the bit).
I could not swallow for nearly two minutes – I was laughing so hard there was no laughter, just trapped air convulsing in my aching chest, but I was full of good energy now (and half a cheeseburger). My night was better. My life, in fact, had changed just a little bit.
Mulaney painted the pictures in my head I wanted to see. A comedian with my sense of humor (now I just need more family, friends and a good lawyer with the same).
That’s what comedy does to us. Whether you’re into standup or not, comic writers are everywhere, improving our lives daily by penning episodes of The Office, sprucing up the Grammys, wasting our time on the internet or just screaming weird stuff in the streets (that’s how you get noticed, right?).
Here’s where I get to my point…
When do we listen to our iPods?
We’re jogging, washing dishes or walking from one place to another past people we’d generally like to ignore. You know – stuff we don’t want to do. Stuff that might not be tolerable without Brandon Flowers assuring us that everything’s gonna be alright.
Maybe you like jogging, washing dishes and waving at everyone as they go by. In that case, music only makes your sparkling existence shine brighter. (Tone it down a bit, people do walk into buses.)
For me it’s usually gardening. I dig gardening (Hah! Sorry..), but it’s undeniably hard work. Turning dirt as Against Me! rails against the state of American culture gives me the strength of multiple men for a while. Rocking while working is the only way to go.
But, as has been well-documented by the 27 Club, rocking too hard can be unhealthy (I’m 31 and have the hearing of an 85-year-old retired professional air horn mechanic). So I like to put a few pauses into the playlist -- a joke break -- a chance to laugh at the absurdity of human existence for a moment. Therefore…
My iPod is always 12% comedy.
That seems like a crazy specific number. But it’s just a guess (I didn't aim for it). After about every 8.3333.. songs, a comedian gives me pause for a moment. It feels healthy. Rock, release, repeat.
Being a comedian is kind of like being a rock star anyway. It’s just a bit more self-deprecating, as all those personal confessions aren’t hidden behind a raging wall of sound or screamed between guitar solos laid-out by a man in a bucket hat.
I have a few favorite comics. Currently the iPod sports plenty of Mitch Hedberg-isms, some Gaffigan, Louis C.K., Brian Posehn and several bits from Patton Oswalt’s latest (Finest Hour). Zach Galifianakis and Hannibal Buress are waiting to tag-in.
But right now the rock star on my iPod is John Mulaney.
Here’s where I get back to where I started…
Mulaney’s first album – The Top Part – presented me with a problem: I would often switch the iPod out of shuffle mode and continue listening to the entire comedy hour whenever one joke started playing. The result is my current ability to recite much of it like some people do lines from Apocalypse Now or know every word to “Stairway to Heaven” or other important cultural markers (“You know who’s a special lady? Whoopi Goldberg”).
Mulaney is blessed with a unique ability to laugh confidently at his own weirdness, then rely on the view to skew the world for listeners. He’s the kind of person who always has a weird story about a jaunt that should have been totally normal. And he is a professional tour guide in the roving museum of John.
His first album revels over childhood flaws (sucks at basketball), teenage predicaments (Catholic school is weird) and all the way to adult shortcomings (terrible driver).
His second album – New in Town (dropped Jan. 31st) – re-asserts Mulaney’s vividly strange life and skinny-dude, prep-school-reject personality with vigor. It delves deeper into the issues with stories of youthful inebriation and colorful impressions of the characters he meets (def jam comic, gay homeless guy – he’s gotten better at voices), including his lawyer parents (“John, this toothbrush is bone dry”).
The best of comedians don’t tell punchline jokes anymore (unless you think you can top Hedberg), they portray a clear view – their clear view – of the world around them. This time around we meet Mulaney’s girlfriend and find out how Jewish folk have changed his life for the better. We hear more about Mulaney’s love for Law and Order and how he could watch Ice-T having slow realizations for the entire hour instead. We also travel along on an absurdly self-deprecating doctor visit that did not even come close to resulting in the Xanax prescription Mulaney was out to get.
We are privy to awesome revelations like, “I’m a terrible driver… Nothing I know can help you with your car ever. Unless you’re like ‘Hey, I’ve got a flat tire. Does anybody here know a lot about The Cosby Show?’”
My favorite bits might be “The Worse Word” (hint: it’s NOT "midget") and “Old Murders” (robbing a bank used to be so easy!).
* Using the patented Jam Room Six-String System, I award New in Town five and a half out of six strings. This album will definitely make your day and John Mulaney is my favorite comedian at the moment. The only reason this doesn’t get SIX strings is because I can still recite most of The Top Part, so that wins. *
Go check out SNL again, where Mulaney works (he co-created “Stefon” with Bill Hader).
And put this disc on your iPod, phone or whatever else they’ve invented today that plays music (that banana you just bought? Look harder).
If we’re going to be walking around ignoring one-another, the least we could do is have smiles on our faces.